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January 30, 2013   Email to Friend 

Melissa Martin
(334) 612-5448
January 30, 2013

An immigration reform proposal unveiled by eight U.S. Senators Monday has reignited debate for a more efficient guest worker program.

The comprehensive immigration reform proposal — drafted by U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; John McCain, R-Ariz.; Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.; Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.; Richard Durbin, D-Ill.; Robert Menendez, D-N.J.; and Michael Bennet, D-Colo. — focuses reform efforts on four pillars. They include: create a strict but fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States; improve the legal immigration system to ensure future economic prosperity; create an effective employment verification system that will prevent identity theft and end the hiring of future unauthorized workers; and establish an improved process for admitting future workers to serve the nation’s workforce.

American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said the nation’s largest farm organization is hopeful the reform principles will provide the needed framework to advance a legislative solution for America’s agricultural labor shortage.

“The time is long overdue for our nation to have a comprehensive agricultural labor plan that works for all sectors of agriculture and across all regions of our nation,” Stallman said in a statement issued Jan. 29. “The best way to ensure a viable and sustained program is through a modern agriculture worker visa program. We also support efforts that would allow experienced laborers the opportunity to earn an enhanced status for the roles they have played in helping us keep our farms running and American agriculture strong. Both elements are critical to an agricultural immigration reform package.”

Recognizing a revised guest worker program could help farmers access a much-needed labor force, Commodity Bee & Honey; Greenhouse, Nursery & Sod; and Horticulture Divisions Director Mac Higginbotham said the senators’ efforts could prove beneficial to the future of Alabama agriculture.

“The fact is, crops do not wait; they will rot. Without a reliable and sufficient agricultural labor force, the sustainability of American-produced food is at risk,” said Higginbotham. “It is critical Congress develops a program that provides the legal and reliable labor force farmers must have with minimal constraints. We are pleased to hear of the efforts being made for an agriculture worker visa program. We look forward to seeing these details develop.”

Higginbotham said Federation policy favors improvements to the current guest worker program, which is inefficient at best.

Officials with the Agriculture Workforce Coalition, of which AFBF is a member, said Congress’ actions represent an understanding of the impact hired workers have on agriculture. AWC serves as the unified voice of agriculture in the effort to ensure that America’s farmers, ranchers and growers have access to a stable and secure workforce.

“Quite simply, American agriculture as we know it would not be possible without the contributions of more than 1.5 million hired workers each year,” AWC reported. 

To access AWC’s version of a proposal for reform, visit http://www.agworkforcecoalition.org/proposal-for-reform. To view the senate’s proposal, visit http://apps.washingtonpost.com/g/page/politics/bipartisan-framework-for-immigration-reform-report/27.

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